An April report by a coalition of human rights organizations is warning that the 2024 presidential election is once again poised to give rise to an increase in hate crimes.
“From the mainstreaming of hate and the failure of social media platforms to adequately address disinformation, the current climate is rife with opportunities for the trend of increased hate to continue into the 2024 election — unless action is taken,” the report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the research arm of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, states.
The report, which draws on findings from 230 national human rights organizations, charts “an unmistakable pattern that has emerged during the last four presidential campaign cycles” showing “reported hate crimes increase during elections.”
As the U.S. heads into what experts believe will be another deeply polarizing election cycle, the report warns of what is to come, based on FBI data that captures upticks of hate crimes from past presidential cycles, beginning with the 2008 election of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama.
The number of reported hate crimes increased by about 5% in the election year of 2012 from the year before. According to the report, FBI data shows that hate crimes have increased by more than 80% since 2015. From 2014 to 2015, reported hate crimes against U.S. Muslims rose by 70%. In November 2016, the month Donald Trump was elected president, the FBI reported the highest number of hate crimes recorded in over a decade. From 2019 to 2020, the numbers in reported hate crimes leaped by more than 13% amid violence surrounding the year’s racial justice demonstrations. The largest bias incident victim category for hate crimes continues to be Black people, who saw a 49% increase. Additionally, amid a rise in U.S. coronavirus cases, anti-Asian hate crimes skyrocketed nearly 150% from 2019 to the 2020 election year, as incidences around COVID-related discrimination, like being coughed on or physically assaulted, were reported.
“One of the great purposes of this report is to signal an early warning about what we can see and what we can predict,” Michael Lieberman, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a contributing partner to the report, explained to Yahoo News.
“Knowing how the election cycles have brought out hate and normalized hate in the past, and what that had meant in terms of actual violence being directed against people on the basis of personal characteristics, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can as a government, as community-based organizations, to make sure that we are prepared for the 2024 election cycle,” Lieberman said.
In March, the FBI released its supplement to the 2021 Hate Crime Statistics to address the gap in reporting from law enforcement agencies that shows that from 2020 to 2021, the FBI numbers jumped again, increasing 11.6% from 8,120 to 9,065. The perpetrator’s race/ethnicity/ancestry motivated about 63% of single-bias incidents. Anti-Black hate crimes continued to be the largest bias incident category, with 31.1% of all single-bias incidents in 2021, the last year for which complete data is available.
Another common thread among perpetrators of mass violence was the use of social media platforms to consume and spread disinformation around conspiracy theories. Anti-hate organizations have rebuked social media companies for contributing to the turbulent political climate ahead of the 2024 election cycle.
“Eleven Jews were murdered at prayer at the Tree of Life Synagogue because this guy was radicalized by what he was reading on social media platforms,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told Yahoo News. “As was the Buffalo shooter, an anti-Black shooter who is a white supremacist who believes in the replacement lie, the Jews controlled the world, similarly got radicalized online. So we really have to take on these platforms.”
While Congress passed the first federal hate crimes statute in 1968, such incidents are hardly new in American history. Yet the report tied an uptick of hate crimes to the 2008 election.
“Research has shown that the 2008 election cycle served as a ‘rebirth’ of the anti-government militia movement from the 1990s. The final weeks of the 2008 election saw an increase in hate crimes targeting racial and ethnic minorities as the United States elected its first Black president,” the report stated.
Nadia Aziz, a program director with the Leadership Conference Education Fund, told Yahoo News that Trump's 2016 campaign “empowered white nationalists and provided them with a platform.”
The organizations that contributed to the report say public officials have a duty to speak out about hate crimes as the country heads into the next presidential election.
“I think that’s a responsibility for anybody in a leadership role, anybody who's running for president or office or anybody who’s currently in government, to use their pulpit to speak out against hate,” Steven Freeman, vice president of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League, told Yahoo News. “Part of that is speaking out not just against one kind of hate, but it's against hate more broadly if you're speaking out against antisemitism, against racism, anti-LGBTQ, against anti-Muslim, against other forms of bigotry and bias.”
In addition, anti-hate groups have called on the federal government to ensure that tech companies like Meta, YouTube and Twitter increase transparency and “invest in de-platforming hate for the upcoming local, state, and national elections” to address hate incidents. While those companies do have such policies in place, the belief among some of the groups that contributed to the report is that they are not being properly enforced.
“A lot of the trust and safety teams have kind of been gutted. So we need to make sure, especially going into this election, that these teams that monitor disinformation and safety and content are rebuilt,” Aziz said. “We just really need to make sure that they are prepared for what’s to come.”
The report also notes that hate crimes tend to be underreported and calls on Congress to mandate that law enforcement agencies submit hate crime data to the FBI and the Department of Justice ahead of the 2024 election.
“Data drives policy, but when vast numbers of law enforcement agencies who are supposed to report to the FBI either report zero or don’t report at all, that’s a real problem,” Freeman said. “That really hampers efforts to allocate more resources, efforts to underscore how important of a priority it should be.”